'Inkslginer' screenshots courtesy of Gateway
Typing game Inkslinger casts you as a scribe, one capable of transforming thought into written words so intuitively that it’s as if you sling ink across the paper without giving it a second thought. But this name isn’t just slang for a job; an inkslinger is also a race, a people whose actual ink-filled veins become stiff and their bodies rigid if they don’t continue to type. It’s a perfectly unsettling detail, transforming what should be a gift into a curse, and the inkslinger herself into a tragic figure, a hostage to her own body.
At first glance, the setting seems like a straightforwardly dour Victorian city, but as the above uncanny detail suggests, this is a stranger place than you’ll find in history books. Your job is to type, firing out words in the form of letters, poems, and songs for clientele who walk into Brassknee’s wordshop, your place of employment. The actual game stems from interpreting their needs, and then selecting a specific word that you think best corresponds to their brief. You type these out just as the inkslinger would, but the game isn’t interested in asking you to do so quickly, or at great volume like other typing games. Inkslinger is all about the art of understanding—finding the right words for thorny and often delicate subjects. Brassknee’s so-called wordshop is also the perfect place to encounter the residents of the brilliantly named Isle Shammer, a coastal town located in the wider (also excellently titled) region of Nomania. You’ll meet Smoothie, a cockney-accented teenager who works in the fishmonger, Tetherheart, mother to an estranged son, as well as various members of guilds whose stories interlink in satisfying and unfortunate ways. As you might expect for a game about words, the writing is excellent. It’s relayed with zip and flair, but also economy, gesturing towards a world beyond the stultifying office that the protagonist Yearnmore (I told you the names were great) finds herself in.
At various points, Yearnmore is yanked from reality into a flashback by what some of her clients say. You type these linguistic triggers out too, but it almost feels unfair to do so, as if you’re making the young scribe relive a grim and harrowing set of events she’d rather forget. As a player, you don’t do much in the text-adventure sections except soak up a story which is complimented by the game’s evocative minimalist visuals. A monochromatic color palette is used to compellingly eerie effect alongside paintings sourced from The National Gallery of Denmark's open database, SMK Open. The Christen Købke portraits used for most of the characters help make Inkslinger feel pleasingly grubby and lived-in, tweaked just a little so they look almost like etchings. Alongside the haunting soundtrack which sounds like vintage ballroom music slowed to a drone-like crawl, the two-person team, Lucas A. V. Møller and Jacob Hvid Amstrup, show what can be achieved with just a few carefully chosen elements rather than the deluge usually found in bigger titles.The approach bears greatest fruit in the last section of the game. I won’t spoil exactly what happens, only that it involves typing through a ritual that would make even Dionysus wince, and that each keystroke lands with precisely the weight the subject matter demands. This, I think, is why I’m digging it so much. On the one hand, Inkslinger is about the ambiguity that exists in writing as well as the pitfalls of interpreting others—how messy and imprecise this can often be. On the other, it understands the horrific potential of language, its capacity to evoke terrifying and hopefully alien situations that live in the mind long after the words have finished.
This isn’t a long game (you’ll likely complete it in an hour) but it’s a fascinating, highly-polished experiment, and an approach to storytelling that I haven’t played before. It’s worth noting there are four different endings which don’t so much frame the preceding events in varying lights but point to how inkslinger might ultimately confront what she’s experienced. As far as I can tell, the moment-to-moment story doesn’t change on replay, but the stark beauty, skillful worldbuilding, and forceful events shine through just as brightly, if not more.